We had heard that Montana was the last frontier. And it’s true – in years of searching for the perfect location, Montana strikingly stood out in a multitude of ways. With miles of vast rolling hills, gentle canyons and alpine tundra surrounded by pools and meadows in the shadow of the Beartooth Mountains, this was the most amazing landscape we had ever found.

In this part of the world, the land lightens. It moves from prehistoric mountains and dark pines to endless horizons of wheat. The air is radiant, as if it was carrying grasses from the plains in it.

This is the landscape captured by renowned modernist painter and rancher, Isabelle Johnson, whose family homesteaded part of the Tippet Rise property for much of the 20th century. Often described as tough, strong and gifted, Isabelle was rancher first and a painter second.

Her large collection of paintings from the 1940s through the 1990s reflects the realities of living and working on the land. Known more for capturing essence over detail, each painting is a full immersion into the rugged natural landscape that surrounded and inspired her. We are proud to partner with the Yellowstone Art Museum on a book published in conjunction with their retrospective of Isabelle’s work, “A Lonely Business”: Isabelle Johnson’s Montana.

The land here hasn’t changed much since Isabelle painted it. What really changed was that Isabelle went to New York to study history and sculpture. She went to Paris and Rome and she brought home the light from distant worlds – the Hudson River light of Thomas Moran, the chalk glaze of Cézanne, the yellowed clay of the Camargue, the arid, blockish hills and the riverish fields of Winslow Homer. Isabelle’s west is the whorl in the hay, the sharp edge between the bales and the sky. In her paintings, valleys howl with gouache, her knife slathers on the evening dark, morning continues to bend in the wheat, and sun beats on the tree trunks.

Isabelle was a teacher too, and when she died in 1992, she bequeathed her land to Montana State University to serve educational and agricultural purposes. As a working sheep and cattle ranch, Tippet Rise honors that intention and is also exploring partnership opportunities with the University to offer agricultural immersion programs to students and faculty.

Home to more than 200 calf-cow pairs and 3,000 sheep, we just saw our first cutthroat trout this spring – an unplanned but welcome byproduct of a new water management project initiated to reestablish an old spring and help redistribute livestock on the land. This summer, we’re proud to host a student staff member who is helping manage all aspects of our ranching operations.

As you walk around the ranch, it’s clear that Isabelle’s spirit lives here. You can feel it in the rustle of the grass and the howls of the wind as the bright Montana sun slips behind the gothic mountains. It’s our commitment that the land will remain pristine, completely personal and intimate, preserved by 17 square miles of the Rise and nestled on the edge of five million acres of national wilderness. At once, it is a home that asks to be both protected and explored.

– Cathy and Peter Halstead, Founders, 2015

Interview of Donna Forbes. The former director of the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana, Ms. Forbes shared a longtime friendship with Isabelle Johnson. Return to Stories